OPINION: Are covert operations against moped gangs enough?

Calls for action after a spate of moped muggings on the streets

Calls for action after a spate of moped muggings on the streets - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

On Sunday, my Dartmouth Park neighbour had his phone snatched out of his hand by a robber on a moped and a friend had his motorbike nicked from his front garden in East Finchley.

Richard Tucker is quizzed by angry residents at a public meeting in 2015

Richard Tucker is quizzed by angry residents at a public meeting in 2015 - Credit: Archant

Browsing Hampstead and Muswell Hill Facebook groups this week, I have noticed an alarming increase in similar posts. When I asked anyone who had either been a victim or witnessed such crimes to contact me the reaction was overwhelming.

Around 50 people got in touch to tell me about incidents in the last month – that is more than one snatch a day.

I was told about a heavily pregnant woman who had her phone snatched at the bus stop in Crouch End Hill last Monday at 5.45pm followed by an elderly man in the same spot.

In the first week of April a woman had her bag grabbed off her shoulder in Raydon Street, NW5, with such force that her shoulder was dislocated.

One woman reported her teenage son having his phone snatched while walking up Dartmouth Park Hill on April 16 and a mother told of her terrified daughter being targeted on March 26 at 9am outside Archway Tube station. She said: “One man on a moped coming the wrong way down the cycle lane grabbed her headphones from her ears and then the phone. Very frightening. Was witnessed by a police officer who then contacted her the next day to say the case was closed.”

These are just a few of the examples filling my inbox with several complaining about police inaction and one filing an official complaint about the “shambolic” police response.

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These drive-by snatch and grabs are nothing new and I have been reporting on them for the last few years, but I expected to see them reducing by now and not multiplying on our streets.

In 2015 we saw our previous Camden borough commander Richard Tucker face angry Hampstead residents in St Stephen’s Church Hall following a similar spate of moped enabled crimes as a BBC documentary team filmed.

Ch Supt Tucker was seen apologising for letting the people of Hampstead down. “As a detective I sit here and I cringe when I hear some of the stories you say,” he said.

He spoke at another meeting of the frustrations of dealing with moped crime as police protocol prevents officers from chasing bikes.

“It is frustrating but there are protocols we have to follow. We cannot be chasing these bikes everywhere through the streets. It is not safe to do so. If a lad comes off and the police are chasing, there will be an investigation and officers will be held to account. I would not want, for the sake of a mobile phone, that a young lad would die, or a member of the public or a young police officer who is chasing a moped,” he said.

But he promised covert operations behind the scenes to target and harrass the gangs, with police sweeping estates, surveillance at petrol stations.

“These gangs should never be cleverer than us,” he said.

“We have to be more sophisticated than chasing people. We have to be smart about how we do this.”

Precisely. But there is no evidence this is working.

The current situation where moped gangs are speeding through our streets unchecked and helping themselves to rich pickings is unacceptable. Surely it is just a matter of time before an innocent passerby is killed or seriously injured.

Police warnings urging people not use their phones in public are also not good enough. Surely, if it is not phones, it will be bags snatched and necklaces ripped off necks. People must be free to walk the streets without having belongings snatched.

Ch Supt Catherine Roper, the borough commander of the new merged Camden and Islington force, must act before there is a tragedy.

The newly elected government needs to urgently reverse huge cuts to police budgets.

When Ch Supt Roper took up the role in January she spoke of plans to introduce police drones. This was greeted with accusations of “big brother” and “police state.”

There is a fine balance, but could spies in the sky and new tracking technology be exactly the solution needed to outwit these gangs?